“Storage losses from improperly stacked bales can be anywhere from 15 to 20% of the dry matter yield while protein and energy losses can be anywhere from 5 to 10%,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.
“It takes a lot of time and money to put up a good quality hay, so why risk losing 10 to 15% of your productivity by just not stacking the bales properly?”
Before bringing the bales home, Yaremcio recommends mowing the grass that is already present in the feed yard.
“This helps reduce a lot of the moisture and soil-to-bale contact, and it helps prevent bottom spoilage. If possible store the bales in a high area, so the bales don’t end up sitting in water after a rain.”
Leave 2 to 3 feet - 60 to 90 cm - between the rows of bales, and stack them from northwest to southeast to allow the prevailing winds to blow through them. “This space allows the wind to blow the snow from between the bales, so the snow doesn’t melt and water accumulate between the bales come spring,” he says.
Different methods for stacking bales in the field can affect their quality. The pyramid style - with three bales on the bottom, two in the middle, and one on the top - is the poorest way to stack hay, according to Yaremcio.
“When it rains or when the snow melts, all the moisture moves from the top down between the bales and through the stack. It causes spoilage wherever the bales contact each other.”
He adds that the mushroom stack - with the flat side of the bottom bale flat on the ground and the second one on top - is better than the pyramid but still will end up with damage primarily to the bottom bale.
“The best method if you have the space, is to put single bales in rows with the individual bales separated by about 6 to 10 inches - 15 to 25 cm - so they don’t touch.”
He suggests if covering a stack of bales with a tarp, leave the ends open so air can blow between the tarp and bales.
“Build the stack so it aligns with the prevailing wind. That way, the wind can carry any moisture that has evaporated out of the bales and has condensed on the inside of the tarp. If the moisture drops back onto the tarped bales, the damage that can occur is no different when bales are left unprotected from the weather.”
Connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre:
Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)